I remember the moment I wanted to become a social worker: when my passion to help other isolated youth find social supports like I did came to be, and how a social worker I encountered while coming out made me want to give back. Over the past eight years through volunteer work and school, I've been committed to creating safe spaces for teens struggling with their identity, home and social issues, and peer pressures. One thing I love most about the work is the sense of security I provide my teens; security in who they are, their ambitions, their sense of community and assuring them that a bright future awaits them.
Ironically, as a youth in the suburbs of New York City who came out 15 years ago, I had no idea how much my sexuality and gender presentation would limit my ability to follow my dream today.
You see, in today's uncertain and challenging job market, graduating with a masters degree in social work, an additional hurdle stands in the way of my being readily employed. In 29 states I can be fired or denied employment for being gay, regardless of my qualifications. If I moved from Massachusetts to a state that lacks employment protections for LGBT people, I would, among other things, have to deny that the woman in the picture frame on my work desk is the love of my life, for fear of losing my job.
Complicating matters, the fact that my appearance does not fit perfectly in the box labeled "female" means that I am unable to safely go back to my home state of New York, or relocate to 33 other states that fail to provide employment protections for gender identity and expression.
So the question is, how does society protect all its citizens from discrimination and what can our elected officials do to make it a reality? While there are many areas that LGBT people remain unequal, including in housing, public accommodations, schools, credit, and marriage, there are two things President Obama and Congress can do right now that focus on employment protections.
At this very moment Obama can sign an Employment Non-Discrimination Executive Order that would cover 22% of the workforce. This would instantly protect any LGBT employee of a federal contractor who receives more than $10,000 a year in federal funds, and send a strong signal to Congress that he is serious about civil rights and the role income plays in our daily lives.
The second thing can be done through Congress, where the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) has been circulating since 1974; however, they need to be pushed to vote on the bill. As long as Obama is reluctant to fulfill his 2008 promise to sign the Executive Order, Congress has every excuse to delay making ENDA a priority.
So, what can you do? If you support equality, you can pick up the phone, call the White House and ask President Obama to sign the Executive Order. Then urge him to pick up the phone and call Congress to push them to bring ENDA to a vote. Click here to call him now.
I do not know what the job market holds for me, but I do know that a positive future is possible and, as I tell the teens who come to me for guidance, change can happen and we can all be a part of it. If politicians want a healthy society, they must support the health and security of all its citizens.
Equality is waiting, history is watching.